Sat, 05 Dec 2020
Mummers pictured outside The Bell at Aldworth by Geoff Fletcher, the late Clive Stevens reigned long as the Doctor between 1979 and 2010
A FINE old tradition out in the northern reaches of our district won’t be taking place this year. Another casualty of the pandemic restrictions is the midwinter ritual of the Aldworth Mummers. They will not be visiting CAMRA Pub of the Year The Bell as usual this December – it would have been the 45th year – although there is rumour of an Easter date.
These roving players have performed regularly since 1976, at numerous drinking establishments, including the Pot Kiln the now defunct Star in East Ilsley and in recent years West Berkshire Brewery. One mummer has been with the group from the start.
Maintaining the anonymity of the players is key, as villagers thought it bad luck if they could identify a performer.
The plays, traditionally performed in villages around the midwinter solstice, are based loosely on the legend of St George and the dragon and show the struggle between good and evil, death and rebirth. At Aldworth number of characters take centre stage, two of whom engage in combat, one a Turkish knight, one King George, the loser being revived by a doctor character. Not forgetting good old Father Christmas...
Some believe the tradition dates back to pagan times, others say they are medieval. Although the term mummers has been in use since the Middle Ages, no scripts survive from then and it may have been a term for various types of strolling players. It is now thought that the type of play popular today dates after the mid-18th century.